Cuomo provocative after investigation says sexually harassed 11 women

NEW YORK (AP) – An investigation found Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed nearly a dozen women inside and outside state government and was working to retaliate against the one of his accusers, the New York attorney general said on Tuesday, hastening calls for the Democrat’s resignation or impeachment.

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President Joe Biden was among those who said Cuomo should step down, a high-profile condemnation from a close former ally.

“I think he should resign,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

The governor remained defiant, saying in a taped response to the findings that “the facts are very different from what has been described” and that he “has never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”

The nearly five-month investigation, conducted by two outside lawyers, found that 11 women who said Cuomo inappropriately touched them, commented on their appearance or made suggestive comments about their sex lives were telling the truth.

Those accusers included an aide who said Cuomo groped his chest in the governor’s mansion and a state trooper on his security details, who said he ran his hand or fingers over his stomach and his back.

Anne Clark, who led the investigation with former US prosecutor Joon Kim, said the allegations were corroborated to varying degrees, including by other contemporary witnesses and text messages.

“These interviews and evidence revealed a deeply disturbing but clear picture: Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws,” New York Attorney General Letitia said. James, at a press conference on Tuesday.

Many women said they feared reprisal if they reported the governor’s behavior, investigators said. On at least one occasion, according to the investigation, Cuomo staff took action “to discredit and denigrate” an accuser – Lindsey Boylan, the first former employee to publicly accuse him of wrongdoing – including including leaking confidential personal files and writing a letter attacking his credibility.

The investigation’s findings, detailed in a 165-page public report, increase the pressure on the 63-year-old governor, who just a year ago was widely praised for his steadfast leadership during the darkest days of the COVID-19 crisis, even write a book about it.

Since then he has seen his position crumble with a drumbeat of harassment allegations, questions in a separate and ongoing investigation into whether state resources were used to write the book and the discovery. that his administration had hidden the true number of deaths in nursing homes during the outbreak.

The revelations, most of which were initially made public last winter, led to a chorus of appeals and then Cuomo’s resignation of many Democrats elected in New York. American senses Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said after the report was released on Tuesday that it strengthens the call for his resignation which they first launched last March.

“No elected representative is above the law. New Yorkers deserve better leadership in the governor’s office. We continue to believe that the governor should resign, ”they said in a joint statement.

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While James concluded the investigation without returning the case to prosecutors for possible criminal charges, local authorities could use his evidence and findings to mount their own cases. Albany District Attorney David Soares said he would request documents from James’ office and urged victims to contact his office with information.

The findings of the investigation are also expected to play an important role in an ongoing state assembly investigation into whether there are grounds for impeaching Cuomo, who has raised funds for a potential fourth term. The Assembly has hired its own legal team to investigate a myriad of allegations regarding harassment, its book, nursing homes and special access to COVID-19 testing.

Several Cuomo accusers have demanded faster action, calling on the governor to step down immediately. Some lawmakers from Democratic and Republican states have joined them, as have former allies of Cuomo, including county leaders and leaders of left-wing political groups.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who would succeed Cuomo if he is impeached or resigns, called the behavior detailed in the report “disgusting and illegal behavior” and said: “No one is above the law.”

In her recorded response, Cuomo apologized to two accusers: Charlotte Bennett, who said the governor asked her if she was open to sex with an older man after telling him she had been the victim of sexual assault, and a woman he kissed. a wedding – an incident reported in a New York Times front page article. Cuomo said he was hiring an expert to reform sexual harassment training for state employees, including the governor.

But he denied other allegations as fabricated and castigated during the investigative process, saying they were full of “politics and bias.” He explained that he had physically kissed people all his life, that his mother and father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, had done the same and that the gesture was meant to “transmit warmth”.

Cuomo’s attorney refuted the investigation’s findings in writing, arguing in most cases that serious allegations, such as the alleged trial and error, had not occurred or that his actions had been misinterpreted.

“For those who take advantage of this moment to score political points or seek publicity or personal gain. I’m saying they’re actually discrediting the legitimate victims of sexual harassment that the law was designed to protect, ”Cuomo said.

Bennett called the governor’s apology “trivial.”

“If he was sorry, he would withdraw. That’s the way accountability works, ”she told The Associated Press. “I don’t believe he will resign. I think it is the speaker’s job now to start the impeachment process.

The report detailed, for the first time, allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed a female state soldier over her security details. He said that in addition to touching the soldier, Cuomo kissed her on the cheek, asked her for help finding a girlfriend, and asked why she wasn’t wearing a dress.

The report also included an allegation by a woman who worked for an energy company who said Cuomo touched his chest at an event. The woman said Cuomo ran his fingers over the letters on his shirt, reading his company name aloud. Then he leaned over and said, “I’ll say I see a spider on your shoulder,” and put his hand between her shoulder and her breasts, according to the report.

“These brave women stepped forward to speak the truth to power and in doing so they expressed their faith in the belief that although the governor can be powerful, the truth is even more powerful,” Kim said at the conference. press conference.

Cuomo faced several allegations last winter, starting with Boylan, who said Cuomo kissed her on the lips after a meeting in his office and “would go out of his way to touch my lower back, them. arms and legs “.

After Boylan went public, Cuomo staff released media memos revealing that she left the administration after facing complaints she downplayed and yelled at her staff. Boylan said the leak was “an effort to get me dirty.”

In an 11-hour interview with investigators last month, Cuomo admitted some behavior while denying other allegations, investigators said. For example, Clark said, he admitted to asking Bennett if she had been involved with older men and said he may have kissed the state soldier at an event, but denied having touched her.

When asked about an allegation he grabbed a woman’s breast at the Executive Mansion, according to the report, Cuomo replied, “I should lose my mind to do such a thing” to a woman he barely knew with several. staff around.

The investigation, which involved interviews with 179 people, including the governor himself, also found that Cuomo’s administration was a hostile work environment “rife with fear and intimidation.”

Cuomo has always denied inappropriate touching, but first said he was sorry if his behavior with women was “misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation.” He has become more combative in recent months, claiming he hasn’t done anything wrong.

He also questioned the neutrality of the lawyers leading the investigation. Kim, has been involved in previous corruption investigations by people in the Cuomo administration.

New York State regulations state that sexual harassment includes unwanted behavior of a sexual nature – from unwanted flirting to sexual jokes – that creates an offensive work environment, regardless of the abuser’s intent.

Cuomo championed a landmark 2019 state law that made it easier for victims of sexual harassment to prove their case in court. Alleged victims no longer have to meet the high bar of proving that sexual harassment is “serious and pervasive”.

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Associated Press writer Jocelyn Noveck contributed to this report.

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